By Mary Ann Inman


JANESVILLE – About 450 people attended the scoping meeting at Craig High School on April 14 to voice and listen to environmental concerns and try to save 545 acres of the most fertile farmland in the nation.

Two hundred orange Rock against the Rail T-shirts were handed out, locals reviewed township maps, and 50 speakers talked.

Of the 50 speakers, nobody was in favor of the proposed Great Lakes Basin Rail Line (GLBRL). People shared a long list of environmental concerns and offered alternatives. Most were shocked to hear that a private company has eminent domain powers.

Surface Transportation Board members Dave Navecky, Phillis Johnson-Ball, and Allen Summerville. Navecky explained the process as follows: (1) the scoping meeting’s purpose is to provide the public with information on the proposed action, the environmental review process, and to solicit comments on the scope and content of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

This process will take two to three years to compile and review, (2) and then the Transportation Board will approve, deny, or approve the project with conditional provisions.

Many submitted written forms were collected at the meeting or taken to be mailed later. There are no limits to the number of letters that can be mailed. Forms are available at your local library. A court reporter was on hand for participating parties to verbally voice concerns.

The public was told about the online scoping options. Docket Number FD 35952 needs to be included in all forms of communication. The deadline has been extended to June 15.

The proposed 278-mile rail route comes around Chicago, starts in Indiana, crosses Illinois, and enters Wisconsin near the intersection of Rock and Walworth counties and ends at Highway 59 near Milton.

The trains will travel up to 70 miles per hour depending on the type of cargo being transported. It will go either over or under I-43, Highway 140, County J, as well as other county roads and state highways.

Ken Luety noted he feels like he “has been railroaded.” No landowners received letters in advance of public notices. Luety’s machinery will not fit in his fields if eminent domain happens. He made an emotional statement that he has worked hard to care for his land for years and he will NOT sell.

Waunita Hoffstrom addressed the crowd by asking for a show of hands to numerous questions with most of the crowd responding. How many people will have the size of their fields reduced? How many are concerned about washout and erosion?

How many have cattle that will lose pastures? How many are concerned about increased emergency response time? How many are concerned about their properties going down in value? And the long list continued.

Mark Melin and many others are bothered by lack of information. One to six rail lines is a very wide range.

Melin asked for a comprehensive 100-year analysis that compares the loss of farmland with the anticipated reduction in fossil fuel usage.

Vicky Duoss expressed issues about the damage that could result to the Emerald Grove Church with a limestone foundation and stained glass windows, the safety of the children who have crossed over to the cemetery annually for more than 100 years to honor Veterans, the noise that would interfere with weddings, funerals and services (a train traveling at 45 mph registers at 83 decibels).

Barb Andrews talked about the vibration deterioration of the Emerald Grove Cemetery.

Dave Moyer’s passion showed emotion as he raised the volume of his voice. He called on the board to review the history of existing tracks that have not been maintained and pleaded with the board to get answers about using the failed railroads verses taking up land for profit ventures.

Once purchased by a private company the land could be sold to Japan or China.

Another speaker backed up Moyer’s concerns by saying that GLBRL claimed to have many investors…now they claim to have no investors, the public is being misinformed intentionally.

David Baer and Teresa Hubka discussed recreational sports, nature trails, risks to children and school bus routes, deterioration of Turtle Creek, and damaged drainage tiles. They asked the STB panel who pays for the indirect or hidden costs.

Nick Venable pleaded to save the Rock Prairie land with some of the most precious black dirt in the nation. Once it is gone…it is gone. It will not come back.

Clinton Fire Chief John Rindfleisch pointed out the extra time it will take by emergency responders. Dead end roads will increase response time.

At grade crossings increase risk. Train derailments would use up emergency equipment and personnel. The department doesn’t have trained back up manpower that can handle derailment.

Margaret Waite is concerned about derailment, contamination, and dead end roads. She questioned if the route was laid out simply by drawing a line on the map by the GLBRL with total disregard for farmland.

Pat Mullooly pleaded with the panel to look at unused and underutilized railways in the interest of conservation of Rock County’s fertile lands serving as food sources now and for future generations.

Some questioned the need for six cargo lines with excessive daily capacity. Others questioned the easement utility capacity and asked if the panel knew what utility types. Is bankruptcy possible? If so, who is accountable?

Boxcars’ owner Tim Pogorelski encouraged the board to look at the economic impact of small businesses. He questioned if people re-routed by at grade crossings, delays, and dead end roads would bother to drive to town to pick up a gallon of milk. When businesses properties lose value…empty storefronts result.

Arch Morton Jr. stated the train route comes within 1.25 miles of his land, and he sympathizes with his neighbors. He has been involved with agriculture for 58 years.

Realtor Mary Gilbank Peterson requested an evaluation of lost revenue from the farmland used and the loss of value of nearby properties.

Your neighbors mentioned in this article are available to answer questions or stop in at Hahn’s Ace Hardware to view the proposed rail map. Ask for Dan Hahn.